Category Archives: Vezot Habracha

The Beginning of Anti-Semitism (Vezot Habracha)

The Beginning of Anti-Semitism (Vezot Habracha)

The jealous are possessed by a mad devil and a dull spirit at the same time. -Johann Kaspar Lavater

During his last moments on Earth, Moses blesses the nation of Israel. He blesses them collectively as well as each tribe in particular. In his poetic blessing, he recounts how God revealed Himself at Mount Sinai and gave the nation of Israel the Torah at that momentous gathering.

The Berdichever quotes the well-known Midrash that before giving the Torah to the Jewish nation He offered the Torah to the other nations of the world. Each nation inquired of God as to what was written in this Torah He was offering them. God mentions it says “don’t steal,” or “don’t murder,” or whatever commandment He knew that particular nation would find too much for them to want to adhere to. In turn, each nation turns down God’s offer of the Torah.

The Jewish people famously go on to accept the Torah before even hearing any details as to what’s written in it. According to the Berdichever, this blind faith in God and acceptance of the Torah caused two different reactions. It endeared the Jewish people to God even more, but it also gave birth to what we call anti-Semitism, the pervasive and often irrational hatred of the Jewish people.

The Berdichever says the hatred is hinted at in the very name Sinai (it has the same Hebrew root as the word “sina” which means hatred). The favored attention of God for the Jewish people and their receipt of the Torah from God generated massive jealousy from the nations of the world. There was no such hatred of the Jewish people before the giving of the Torah. After the giving of the Torah starts the global phenomena of non-Jews hating Jews for no other reason than their being Jewish. The Jew-hatred extends to people who have never even met a Jew.

The Berdichever indicates that the Jew-hatred doesn’t stem from any wrongdoing a Jew may have done, nor from any offense a non-Jew may have suffered from the hand of an individual Jew. Rather it comes from deep jealousy of the Jewish people, starting from our collective ancestors at Mount Sinai. The Jewish people elected to accept God’s detailed and often demanding laws, which created both a great responsibility as well as a closer connection to the divine, while the nations of the world opted out of such a possibility (on a national basis). They hate us for that; even if they don’t realize it. It has expressed itself in multiple incarnations and with a plethora of excuses throughout the generations, but underlying it all is simple jealousy of our relationship with God.

May we see the prophesized end of anti-Semitism speedily and in our days.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To my beloved in-laws, Yossi & Gita Tocker, on their 50th wedding anniversary! Mazal Tov!!!!!

Afterlife Reunions (Vezot Habracha)

Afterlife Reunions (Vezot Habracha)

Time is not what you think. Dying? Not the end of everything. We think it is. But what happens on earth is only the beginning. -Mitch Albom

Of all the great unknowns of our world, death, life after death and what we call the afterlife remain a mystery clouded by uncertainty, different beliefs, lack of belief and limited scientific evidence. Jewish tradition on the other hand has a number of firmly held beliefs as well as extensive lore about what the afterlife is about, what rules apply and some insights about what the experience entails. Not surprisingly, we glean some of that inside information from tidbits Moses left for us in the Bible.

On his last day on Earth, Moses addresses the assembled nation of Israel as they sit on the Plains of Moab, staring across the Jordan River at the Land of Canaan, The Promised Land. Moses quotes God and declares:

“This is the land that I promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to say, to your progeny I will bequeath it.”

Rabbeinu Bechaye on Deuteronomy 34:4 (Vezot Habrachah) reads from this verse references and hints as to how things are in the afterlife. When Moses quotes God above and adds the seemingly superfluous words of “to say,” Rabbeinu Bechaye, quoting the Talmud, states that God was instructing Moses that when he’s dead at the end of that day, he should directly tell the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that God fulfilled His promises. This implies that in the afterlife, Moses would be meeting the Patriarchs and be able to talk with them.

However, the Talmud continues to explain that the dead are aware of not only what’s going on and have interactions in the afterlife, but that they’re also aware and even involved in some measure in the occurrences back on Earth in the material dimension. If that’s the case, then why does God instruct Moses to inform the Patriarchs about what they already know?

The Talmud answers that the Patriarchs do indeed know what’s going on and that Moses wasn’t informing them of anything they didn’t know when he conveyed God’s message. However, God wanted Moses to be in the Patriarch’s good grace as the agent and as a messenger of the good tidings of the final fulfillment of God’s promise of centuries before.

It is comforting to know that included in the many aspects of Jewish belief about the afterlife, we’ll be able to hangout with our spiritual kin as well as stay up-to-date about what’s going on with our people and our loved ones in the mortal world.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Ari Fuld’s (hy”d) family. Their strength and resilience have inspired an entire nation, in addition to Ari’s own character and heroism. May God comfort them among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Dark Fire

Dark Fire

The crux is that the vast majority of the mass of the universe seems to be missing. -William J. Broad

Cosmologists have a problem. According to their observations and calculations, our universe should have significantly more matter and energy than they are able to perceive. They have termed these mysterious forces as “dark matter” and “dark energy” though they frankly don’t know what either of these things might be. They estimate that dark matter and dark energy respectively make up as much as 26.8% and 68.3% of our known universe (together 95.1%!). The cosmos that our puny brains and science can currently observe and define makes up less than 5% of the composition of our universe.

In this regard, more than one hundred years ago, Rabbi Hirsch comments on the 3,000 year old passage in Deuteronomy 33:2. He touches on his own divine cosmological explanation, with a term the sages called “dark fire.” It is an unseen power that is responsible for everything in our universe (think of Star Wars’ “the Force”) and in my opinion, might even account for some of the mass and energy that modern science is unable to perceive or measure. However, what is most interesting about Rabbi Hirsch’s description is that man is the only creature that may actually have some say, some control, on how this unseen, elemental force plays a role in his life:

 “Esh (fire) is the force that generates movement, change and life in all physical creations; the dark, invisible fire, as our Sages call it, through which the eternal, God-given laws for the universe are fulfilled. These laws operate in all creatures without their being aware of them, and independently of their will. But these same laws, established and willed by God, the Supreme Consciousness and Will, and operating through the almighty power of His will, are to work differently with man, the creature called upon to exercise moral free will. In the case of man, God’s Law is not to operate from within him, without his conscious will; it is to come to him from without, so that, out of his own free volition, he may absorb it in his mind and will.”

Rabbi Hirsch then draws a parallel between this dark fire and the Torah. He posits that the Torah is somehow “fire-become-law”, a humanly comprehensible insight and access into some of these elemental forces. By fulfilling God’s Law we can take conscious control of these powers as well as our own personal destinies.

We no longer need a Jedi Master to instruct us as to the workings of the universe. All its secrets might be found in the Torah.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, whose powerful commentary has accompanied us this entire year.

Pre-Incarnated Unity

 

 

 The soul gives unity to what it looks at with love. -Thomas Carlyle

EyeEarth

At what was perhaps the most transcendent moment in human history, God reveals Himself to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, where the Ten Commandments are uttered and God gives the remainder of the Written and Oral Torah to Moses. Every single one of the Children of Israel who was alive at that time, shortly after the Exodus from Egypt, hears and senses God at prophetic levels.

There follows a question as to how this bond, this covenant that was formed at Sinai can continue through the long generations and millennia since that singular event. What connects, what unites the descendants of those who stood at Sinai with the ancestors who witnessed the barely filtered presence of God?

Amongst many answers, a popular one is that the soul of every Jew was at Sinai, even if he hadn’t been born yet. Somehow, at this defining event for the Jewish people, every Jewish soul, alive as well as unborn, through all the generations, was present for the receipt of the Torah, for the establishment of the everlasting covenant with God.

The Baal Haturim on Deuteronomy 33:3 adds another facet to this well known explanation. He elaborates that not only was the soul of every future Jew in history present at Sinai, but that even the souls of future converts were present at the encounter. That the truth is that their souls were there as well, and heard and received the Torah. When they convert, they are merely reconnecting and reclaiming that spiritual heritage that was rightfully theirs from so long ago, where we all accepted the divine mission as one united people.

May our souls re-accept the Torah on a regular basis.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the unifying Sukah of the Lefler family.

Stolen Inheritance

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/vezot-habracha-stolen-inheritance/

Netziv Deuteronomy: Vezot Habrachah

Stolen Inheritance

You may not be able to leave your children a great inheritance, but day by day, you may be weaving coats for them which they will wear for all eternity.  -Theodore L. Cuyler

Jewish education starts at the youngest possible age. We start by teaching children verses from the Bible, often with a melody. One of the first verses and perhaps one of the most important ones is from Deuteronomy 33:4:

“The Torah was commanded to us by Moses, an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.”

There is something fundamental about the fact that Moses transmitted the words of God to us. And there is something equally important about the Torah being our inheritance.

The Netziv explains this verse further and states that not only is the Torah, Jewish law and tradition our inheritance, not only is it central to Jewish life and continuity, but whoever withholds the transmission of Jewish jurisprudence from their students is as if they are stealing their inheritance.

Parents have not only the responsibility, but the obligation to pass on the chain of tradition to their children. And if their own parents failed in that transmission, it does not absolve them of reclaiming that treasure and passing it on to future generations. It is woefully true that in many families the chain has been broken. Lip service is paid to our Jewish heritage. The most minimal, superficial, watered-down aspects of Judaism is sometimes all that remains. There is so much more!

Let us not be the generation that let the chain remain broken. Let us reforge the chain. Let us insure a Jewish tomorrow for our families. It starts with education.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Ronit Stolovas and Nadia Dzimalkowski who have taken upon themselves the coordination of meals for the Uruguayan Shabbos Project – the biggest communal education project of the year.

¡Viva la Constitución!

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomio: Vezot Habraja

united states constitution 

¡Viva la Constitución!

“Hay algo detrás del trono más grande que el propio rey.”-William Pitt

Desde el comienzo de la civilización, los reyes y gobernantes han sido una parte necesaria de la cadena alimentaria de organización jerárquica. Una vez que la comunidad, la sociedad o el país alcanza un cierto tamaño y sofisticación, es necesario que haya una persona para hacerse cargo del grupo. Para la mayoría de la historia, esa persona era un rey.

Sin embargo, ser nacido en Estados Unidos y en su mayoría educado en Estados Unidos tengo una afinidad especial e incluso el amor a la constitución de los EE.UU. La constitución consagra y codifica la supremacía de los principios más de personalidades y se ha evitado la mayoría de los excesos que son la norma de los déspotas. Hay algo más grande que el gobernante designado.

Ibn Ezra en Deuteronomio 33:5 establece una conexión relacionada. La Torá en el versículo habla de un rey, pero Ibn Ezra explica que en realidad está aludiendo a la Torá misma. No sólo la majestad, la nobleza, la grandeza, la necesidad y el requisito de tener, respetar y honrar la Torá, sino también la supremacía que la Torá debe tener en nuestras vidas. La Torá es el jefe, la Torá es la que toma las decisiones. La Torá, sus principios y las instrucciones son las que tenemos que seguir, más que cualquier burócrata designado o de la personalidad real.

Que podamos encontrar los principios regios de la Torá que se aplican a nosotros y les rinden homenaje adecuado.

Dedicacion

Para la Torá. Que podamos bailar con ella con felicidad y alegría (y no embriaguez …)

Long Live the Constitution

[First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/vezot-habrachah-long-live-the-constitution/]

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomy: Vezot Habrachah

Long Live the Constitution

“There is something behind the throne greater than the King himself.” -William Pitt The Elder Chatham

Since the beginning of civilization, kings and rulers have been a necessary part of the hierarchical and organizational food chain. Once the community, society or country reaches a certain size and sophistication, there needs to be one person taking charge of the group. For the majority of history, such a person was a King.

However, being American-born and mostly American-educated I have a special affinity and even love for the U.S. constitution. It enshrines and codifies the supremacy of principles over personalities and has mostly averted the excesses that are the norm of despots. There is something greater than the appointed ruler.

Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 33:5 makes a related connection. The Torah in the verse speaks of a King, but Ibn Ezra explains that it is really alluding to the Torah itself. Not only the majesty, the nobility, the grandeur, the necessity and the requirement of having, respecting and honoring the Torah, but also the supremacy that Torah should have in our lives. The Torah is the boss, the Torah is the one calling the shots. The Torah, its principles and instructions are the ones we need to follow, more so than any appointed bureaucrat or royal personality.

May we find the kingly principles of the Torah that apply to us and pay them proper homage.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the Torah. May we dance with it in joy (and not drunkenness…)